Sunday, April 21, 2013

OZYMANDIAS: A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias is a striking observation of the temporal nature of empires even when they seem to be unshakable. 

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Monday, March 25, 2013


I arrived at the barber shop under the sign "Men's Haircuts: $21.00". I pushed through the door to the sound of chimes and the low murmur of professionals.

"Hi", a cheerful voice called out from the rows of maroon-uniformed barbers. "Five minutes". 

I smiled and nodded at no one in particular and took a seat in the low leather couches that lined the waiting-room.  Looking around the pleasant establishment, I relaxed. This was going to work out after all. I had recently moved to the big city and was committing my scalp to a new barber after almost 20 years of barbering with Ted. 

Ted was a perfect barber. He had honed his craft on the islands of Hawaii where he mastered the styling of hair very much like mine. He was confident and fast yet a perfectionist with proportions and finish. I had followed him around as he bounced from one hairstylist's shop to another as barbers frequently do. I would phone in for a haircut and invariably learn that Ted was no longer there. Of course they would never say where he had gone because they didn't want customers following Ted to a new stylist's establishment.  Like a detective, I would hunt for him until I found him manning a chair in some dejected looking store at a discount mall.

"Who is next?" said a halting accented  voice. I looked up at the tall thin man standing uncertainly at the opening to the waiting room. The five other men who sat waiting turned to me. I rose from the deep couch and followed my new barber to his chair on the work floor.

He looked to be about twenty seven. Definitely from the Middle East  but the face shape and mannerism put him closer to Persia than Arabia. I watched him in the mirror as he draped the black apron around my shoulders. He exuded an air of uneasiness ... as though he had been trained too briefly and tossed out onto the stage before he felt ready.  

He spent a few moments fastening the cape to my neck and looked up with an expression of triumph when the last  button snapped in place. I surveyed his counter space as I tried to decipher what a celebration over the deployment of an apron meant. 

To the left was a tray holding an array of blade guards for electric  clippers. These guards determine  the length of hair the clippers leave on the head. The number two, for example, will leave about an eighth of an inch while a number three will leave about three eighths. 

A number of combs lay around a tall urn of what I assumed was an antiseptic fluid. The combs were speckled with hair and it was my turn to feel uneasy. "Head lice,  ringworm ... Ted would not have tolerated this."  

The barber addressed me in a muffled voice. "What we do for you?"  He had the odd look on his face of one who did not understand the words he had uttered. 

I began putting a theory together. 

The owner of the barbershop was asked by his brother in Iran or somewhere in those parts to bring a wayward son over to Canada where he would learn English and a skill that would transform him from a directionless hang-about to a man with an honest trade.  I had obviously intersected this story very early in the process. The English was not there and the barbering, though yet to be seen, had began ignominiously.

"Short on the sides and slightly longer on top", I said slowly. I pulled my hands out from under the apron to help me illustrate. I watched him trying to interpret what I was saying but even though he said "Yes", his eyes showed no recognition.

"And so it begins", I thought to myself as the clippers began buzzing around my ears. 

Using the number three, he cut the sides starting on my right, working round the back and ending on my left. Not noticing that his electric cord  had encircled my head, he yanked the clippers to get into position which jerked my head backwards like a Pez dispenser.  He mumbled what I  took to be an apology. I decided to be gracious and composed myself without protest.

He momentarily disappeared from view and reappeared holding a squirt bottle. After adjusting the nozzle, he shot several streams of water at the top of my head. He had intended to mist my hair but instead, water jets shot into my hair and rolled down my face in dentritic patterns ending at my chin. He adjusted the nozzle again and several more jets were shot at my head where they collected into rivulets and poured down my face.

He looked at the spray bottle with some puzzlement and then at my reflection in the mirror. He noticed the streams running down my bemused expression and darted off  returning with a tightly rolled towel. I smiled slightly to encourage him on but without unrolling the towel, he began dabbing my face like a tentative boxer jabbing his opponent's face with a glove. My head kicked back again as I vainly tried to avoid the blows.

Ted left the island life to return to the town where his mother lived. She was getting old and needed someone nearby so he abandoned his idyllic life of sun and surfing. I deduced that he had worked among people who were frantic to get out of the barber shop to return to the surf because he worked efficiently. He minimized  motion and effort...cutting hair with rapid snips and expertly flicking the cut hair away from the client. He would have one hand holding an ear away from the head while a finger guided the trimmers on an elliptical arch down the back of the head. He made very little contact with the subject's head and the subject appreciated that. 

The scissors, snipping seemingly at random, abruptly stopped. My stylist walked around me and began snipping at the same patch of hair from the other side. He dropped the scissors in an inexplicable fumble with his thumb and index finger. He said something under his breath and stooped to pick them up. As he continued, fragments of my black hair tumbled down my face and stuck to the moist tracks where water had  recently flowed. With vertical bands of dark hair plastered to my desperate face,  I looked like a caged ocelot.

After an extended period of mystifying actions, the barber stood back to look at his work. I looked at myself and had to suppress a pang of despair  The random snipping had resulted in an uneven conical shape cresting the top of my head like a Mesopotamian burial mound. I began to get up somewhat relieved that the ordeal was over but he pressed me back into the seat. Wagging his finger in what he clearly hoped was the universal semaphore for, "We are not done yet", he held his other hand under a spout that spewed a thick white cream. He smeared the ooze on my neck and sideburns then reached into a glass jar and pulled out a straight edge razor. 

"Oh", I gulped. "A straight edge razor? In a learner's hands?"

Using the mirror, I looked around the work floor at the other barbers but no one seemed alarmed. No watchful eye was turned our way.

After the fiasco with the scissors, he was surprisingly deft with the razor. The visions of a severed jugular faded as he cut neat edges on the back and sides of my hair. Perhaps his talent with the razor had channeled him down the path to personal hair care.  I modified my theory: His father in Iran had seen promise in his son's blade-work and had recommended him to a relative; the Canadian barbershop owner.

An industrial hairdryer was turned on and at last I began to feel at ease with the warm air blowing over my newly exposed head. Starting with a tingle, a violent nervous pulse coursed from the top off my head to my feet. I convulsed in my seat ducking from the hairdryer that had heated up to the temperature of the sun's core. He pointed the high-velocity plasma at the balding patch at the back of my head causing a frightening pain to explode in my brain. He must have seen my silent scream because he hurriedly shut off the magma gun and stepped away from me. 

I tugged at the cape and struggled to stand while gingerly touching my burned pate.

He seemed shell shocked and looked wildly around as I got to my feet.  He must have thought I was going to attack him.

The pain rapidly subsided so I decided to adopt my usual stoic persona rather than make a fuss. I thanked the young man curtly, paid my fee at the front desk and fled.

"Ted, where art thou?" I asked aloud as I drove out of the parking lot.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


English is a splendid language. It is scientific, poetic, pompous and earthy all at the same time.

English is the mother tongue of dwellers of a damp island called England and until the 1500s, was chiefly spoken by this single body of people. As history progressed, some of the inhabitants of the soggy island fled to the four corners of the earth and established English-speaking colonies.

In near isolation, the language began to mutate into variants like the Australian sing-song babble and the American snarl.

Had these populations remained apart for much longer, the English they spoke may have diverged to the point where speakers of the variants would have been totally foreign to each other. As it is, Canadians often finds  Australians difficult to understand and Americans look upon New Zealanders with stunned incomprehension.

The internet, in a great conjoining of separated twins, will bring the speakers of English back into the fold of a common language. I expect that the standards of spelling and word usage will be hammered back into alignment after so many years of straying.

No longer will the spellcheckers build in variations on word spellings for American, Australian, New Zealander, Caribbean, Indian, Sub-Saharan, Polynesian, Canadian and British English. There will be one standard and one alone.

I have decided to insist on certain rules as the process of homogenization gets underway.

Rules for the Homogenization of English

1] If there are two spellings for the same word e.g. color (American) and colour (British), the shorter of the two shall prevail unless of course the shortening of the word causes it to be ambiguous. In cases where the differently spelled words are the same length, the one that is phonetically straightforward shall be used. This process is already well underway in Canada where the spelling of centre is being widely replaced with center.

2] If there are two ways to pronounce a word that otherwise means the same thing e.g. 
Aluminum (American) and Aluminium (British),  the American pronunciation shall prevail owing to its military power. (Military power is a reliable way to resolve these types of things)

3] If two different words are used to depict the same thing e.g chips (American) and crisps (British), each side shall send an ovulating female to compete in a no-rules cage fight. The winner, determined by a tooth count after 4 hours, shall have the item officially named in the way that pleases her.

4] If one word is used to refer to two separate things  e.g.  bonnet (British to mean hood of a car) and bonnet ( American to mean rural female headgear), the country that has a
massed the largest number of naval battle groups with each group having the power to crush sizable oil-rich sultanates earns the right to have their word used by all others. In this case, the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Indians, Africans and all the rest will have to use the word bonnet to mean headgear and then rule #3 will be used to determine what word will be accepted to mean the panel that covers the motor of a car.

5] If two different slang words or abbreviations are used to depict a single item e.g. TV (American) and telly (British), the one that sounds the least infantile will be used.

6] If one population develops a technological advancement and names it, the other side is not allowed to make up its own name for the development. If, for example, the British develop a new underground mode of transportation and call it The Underground, all English speakers will be obliged to use the British name even if it sounds somewhat goofy.

7] If one side has changed the grammatical rules surrounding plurality of a word e.g. "Officer, I only had a couple of beer" (Canadian) and "
Constable, I only had a couple of beers" (British), the population of each side shall be enumerated and then divided by the number of grams of performance enhancing substances consumed by that country's contingent of Olympic athletes. The resulting number will then be further divided by the average body mass index of that nation's female sitting members of parliament and then multiplied by their age. The country that first abandons this calculation will be forced to adopt the  other's rules of plurality.

8] If a word is used only by one population group and will never be used by any other group for any reason at any time in the future, that word shall not be included in the universal spellchecker and will be treated as a regional curiosity. An example of such a word is the Canadian toque depicting a hat-like woolen skull mitten. If, for example, climate changes to the degree that Polynesians begin wearing woolen skull mittens, they are obliged to adopt the word used by the first wearers of skull mittens. If they insist on coming up with their own noun, Canada can throw in the flag and invoke rule #3 to resolve the matter.

9] If a population wants to use a French word to depict a new condition or item that has no current English word, the "French To English Word Migration Form" shall be filled out and submitted in triplicate to the "Center for the Rejection of French words". Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for a response.

10] If a word has no meaning whatsoever e.g. synergy, it shall be rejected and the person responsible for the coinage of the word will be flogged in public till the word is removed from all corporate mission statements. The nation that birthed this loathsome cretan shall pay a punitive portion of its GDP to all Canadian blogs that are named to connote a medical condition.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Jeffrey T. Larson is an artist from Minnesota. His work is done in oil color representing rural landscapes, still life and human figures.

Looking through his online gallery, one painting caught my attention: Napa cabbage.

Like many of his paintings, Napa cabbage is crisply executed with exquisite attention to natural color. It has an eye-catching ox-blood band around the head of one of two  Chinese cabbages placed in a dish. The painting captures a sense of locality and presence in a way that I rarely see.

What I also experience  is the partially visible drawer knob pulling the balance of the picture sharply toward the bottom left. It feels as if  my hair is being pulled by an unscrupulous wrestler. This could be because the painting is not fully represented on the online gallery. It may also have been painted that way. Either way, the pull to the left is distinct.

To see if I could re-balance the painting, I re-framed it to exclude the drawer knob.

That did the trick. The painting gains its balance and the vertical lines on the desk also help point the eye to a single focal point which is the red band on the upright cabbage.

This is a delightful work and just needed a slight trim to make it a perfect painting for me.

Another example of his paintings is Gravel Road. A human figure pauses on a gravel road to attend to a mosquito bite or something on her leg. 

The purplish gravel intrigued me because it is counter-intuitive yet it looks very natural against the bright green surroundings.  I then realized that Larson was painting the color that results when your retina is exposed to adjacent bright  green and brown/yellow surfaces. This is an effect caused by an optical phenomenon called image burn-in. Click on this link and do the experiment to see what I mean.

As Larson was out having the bright green foliage burning on his retinas, the brown/yellow gravel on the road was perceived as reddish purple or even cyan. This painting is the result of a great deal of attention to perceived color. 

I played with the picture slightly to match my taste in balance and perspective. I added atmospherics to push the background further back and turned the girl around to help concentrate the painting's focal point in one place. I also softened the figure's shadow to reduce its visual weight.

You may have noticed the problem I am left with. The figure occupies the dead center of the painting.

One way to correct this would be to trim the left side of the picture by a little over an inch. The result, as you can see, is not too bad.

The figure is now off-centered which is more pleasing to the eye. The two partial bushes on either side are now mirroring each other which seems a bit contrived but I like the way it looks.

Look at this other landscape by Larson. This painting, Blue Marsh, puts him squarely in the big leagues.

His use of color is truly amazing. In this painting, the painter shows himself to be one of the most sophisticated color interpreters I have ever come across.

The tangle of reeds descending into the water at the bottom right is breathtaking. Mortal painters will look at that one section of work in awe. 

The rest of the painting , dominated by the reflective surface of marsh water, is so well rendered that the painting technique disappears leaving only a transcendental encounter with a natural scene. 

Jeffrey T. Larson is a gifted craftsman of color and his treatment of surfaces is almost unnaturally good.

His layouts don't always match my admittedly narrow tastes but I enjoy his work immensely. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The current push to limit the types of guns and the number of bullets per magazine that US citizens can use will likely lead to the opposite of the intended effect. Safety is promised but danger will result. Saving life is assured but lives lost is guaranteed.

It is argued that deranged individuals are able to do a great deal of harm because they  have access to powerful weapons and access to magazines that house a large number of rounds. To reduce the amount of harm that an individual can do, it is theorized that a killer's rampage would be impeded if he only had access to a gun that delivered a limited number of bullets per second and if he had  to change magazines more frequently.

This sounds reasonable to many people. Parallels can be drawn to speed limit laws where constraining the speed at which cars are driven reduce the chances of accidents and also the amount of harm that results if accidents do happen. If speed limits are rightfully based on harm reduction benefits, it is then said to follow that harm reduction is an acceptable basis for legally limiting the types of guns and the number of rounds per magazine.

These justifications of legal limitations on firearms, as reasonable as they sound, are entirely wrong because they  are based on incorrectly applied commonalities shared by  vehicles and firearms.

One such misapplication stems from the
failure to make a distinction between how  vehicles and firearms are utilized in  public spaces. Regarding cars, their utility is almost exclusively relegated to  public spaces which is also where speed limits apply. If a citizen wanted to drive her car at 200 miles an hour on her private land, she is free to do so. When she ventures onto public roads, she is constrained by the law because her behavior is likely to affect other law-abiding citizens.  

On the other hand, firearms are almost exclusively utilized in private spaces (e.g. target ranges).  Only when in transit do firearms cross public space and even so, are not in the state of utility but rather in a state of transit and proximity. That is to say that they are carried into public space in a dormant condition in order to be near their owners in case the need for them emerge. Laws can be and are applied to the handling of firearms in public spaces but extending the nature of these laws to limit the types of weapons citizens can hold and the number rounds magazines can contain penetrates into private space in ways that vehicular laws do not.  

Firearms are almost never utilized in public spaces unless the condition of a general breakdown of law occurs. If this indeed happens (as it it did in the 1992 Los Angeles riots and every time an armed robbery occurs), force may be needed to preserve order and safety. In these circumstances, there is no perceivable advantage gained by disallowing certain types of weapons and limiting ammunition volumes. Even a  temporary absence of effective public law enforcement requires that citizens undertake the task of preserving the peace (even if only in the space directly around them) and it seems unwise to deprive private citizens of the level of firepower that is deemed necessary by public law enforcers to achieve the same goal. 

Another misapplication of the vehicular/firearms parallel is related to way that the legal limits affect the utility of the  tools. In the case of cars, legal speed limits only constrain  the immediate discretionary speed. Speed limits do not require that a car be physically restricted to driving at a particular speed. To do so would affect the utility of the car in other jurisdictions and circumstances. Because cars are not just used in playground zones but also on freeways, laws must be aimed at discretionary behavior rather than physical allowances of the machine.  

Beyond needing to drive on freeways that require high speeds, vehicles are sometimes driven in bad neighborhoods and in mountain passes where moments of urgency or desperation arise and the constraints of the law must be overridden for safety or the preservation of life. When under threat of avalanches or marauding gangs, citizens may be compelled to exceed a 30 mile an hour speed limit.  

Similarly, firearms are called into service in varying circumstances. Sometimes they are called into service for hunting and target shooting. Other times they are needed to ward off gangs of attackers. To set limits on firepower fails to accommodate the varying circumstances in which firearms are required. 

As an illustration, take a citizen's home  under attack by a gang of three men. Even if the attackers were to adhere to the magazine limit themselves, their bullet count is thirty against her ten. The citizen is in a tight spot. She can't waste any bullets as warning shots. Every bullet has to count.  Instead of the legal limit of bullets per magazine reducing the harm that is done, greater harm is realized because expending rounds as warnings is not in the citizen's interest. Every shot must go through a person. Alternatively, the attackers could just draw her shots and count them down till her magazine was empty.

Limiting the options that citizens have puts them in danger and increases the odds of dangerous escalations.

Beyond all these arguments, US citizens have the right to own firearms as spelled out by the constitution with no constraint on type or magazine size. The right to own firearms is only incidental to hunting, target shooting and defense against harm from the lawless. The right is primarily for the purpose of defending all other rights that are inscribed in the constitution. As such, all efforts to restrict  citizen ownership of guns, even the most sincere, must be countered diligently.

A citizenry unable to defend itself against illegal power of the state is ultimately a vassal of the state. A member of such a citizenry would find her private safety and her need to provide for herself using her own means becoming increasingly irrelevant or even contrary to the interests of the state.

The safety and sanctity of her life that was assured by those who wish to restrict firearms will become only wishful dreams fading in the mists of history.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Tall grass brushed by my woolen coat
I pushed through the dripping leaves
Morning dew fell on my sodden boots

The sun warmed the edge of the sky
With a mist of dappled orange light 
That touched the curls of smoldering clouds

I listened for the sound of tracking dogs
And even though the chilling air was silent
I hurried still toward the East

Toward the long forgotten keep
The citadel at Carmenguay


The sun powered down with an incandescent heat.

A swirling gust of wind raised a cloud of fine dust into my face. I lifted the palm of my hand to shield my eyes from the grit. When the dust settled, I squinted down the road hoping to see the bus making its way down the main highway out of town. A few jalopies rolled by but the bus was not in sight.

"Where is this damn...?" I grumbled to myself. "….Probably broken down somewhere."

Beside my feet was a woven nylon basket filled with vegetables from the open-air market. I had some spinach in reasonable condition which I bought from an aggressive lady who had called out to me as I walked by her stall. "What are you looking for?" she boomed in a laughing but forceful voice. As I stammered in surprise, she added, "You probably need vegetables."  She held up   a bundle of spinach in each hand. "I'll give you a good price." 

Wordlessly, I walked to her and held my basket open as she placed her produce into it. "Are there any potatoes?" I asked as I paid her.

She told me of a shipment of potatoes that had just arrived and were being sold near the western wall by her cousin Alfred. I walked hurriedly along the rows of beans, tomatoes and mangoes to find Alfred before his potatoes were gone.

A harried Alfred weighed out customer orders and explained loudly that his potatoes had just come in fresh from Thompson Falls. I took my place in the line to buy them. The dry weather made them rare and pricey but I bought 3 kilograms because rice and maize were even higher . 

I waited on. The afternoon air became still and silent.   Heat waves danced on the horizon making it look as though the asphalt road ended in a shimmering lake of blue water. 

I surveyed the horizon towards the north. I could make out two dead cows where they lay by the road. They were stretched out on the brown soil with their ribs etched along their backs.

Somali nomads had recently driven their herds southwards through town desperate to get to the greener lands that lay on the slopes of the volcanic mountains. As the herds moved, the weaker animals fell and were left to the vultures along the way. The drought they were fleeing had burned their grazing zones into a wasteland of talcum powder.

"I should walk home." I thought.

I bent over and lifted the basket off the ground to test its weight. The thin leather straps cut into my fingers and I knew I would not be able to stand the pain after a kilometer or two. Eleven miles in the heat would be torturous especially with the awkward weight of the basket. I set it back down.

Across the road from me, a massive willow tree drooped heavily over a one-room regional clinic.  Its neatly trimmed lawn lay invitingly in the shade.

I decided to cross the road to continue my wait shielded from the sun. I grasped the handles of my basket but as I started to lift it, the faint grind of a motor echoed through the hot air. 
I strained to listen for the sound but it faded away and was gone. The bus did not rise from the watery mirage. 

My lips were dry. I brushed a fly off my nose.

I glanced up at the sky and estimated that it was 2:00 pm. I had been standing at the bus stop since high noon.

"I'll probably be getting the 3:30 bus." I groaned. "They must have skipped the 12:30 altogether."

I turned to look at the mud-walled houses that stood in crude rows behind me.

The blended smell of laundry detergent and sewage wafted by from the makeshift village. The roughly finished wooden doors and windows of the huts were closed against the heat. I tried to decide whether it would feel better to stand in the sun or to wait out the afternoon in one of the tin-roofed huts.

The shady patch under the giant willow called out to me again. As I touched the basket to heave it across the road, I heard a door close.

I looked up to see a man and a woman leaving the clinic. The woman clutched the man's arm. She was limping slightly as they  slowly crossed the road.

They got to the bus stop and halted a few meters from me. The man stared at me for a moment with bloodshot eyes. He was tall and dressed in a pale threadbare suit. The jacket hung off his shoulders like it would a wire coat hanger.

She was draped in a faded cotton cloth that covered her head and looped to the ground. She spoke in a strange rapid language that I didn't recognize. His replies were slow and even-toned. She gripped his arm tightly, trying to take some weight off her feet.

The old grey bus blustered up to where the three of us stood. The weary conductor casually opened the door to let us in and away from the inhospitable afternoon.

The wait was finally over.